Written by 12:39 pm Audiophile Music, Audiophile, Audiophile News, Vinyl

Oft-Sampled Collector’s Grail Vinyl Of Hoagy Carmichael PBS TV Prog-Jazz Soundtrack Reissued For New Generations To Explore

Mark Smotroff enters the made for TV alternative music zone…


Lately I’ve been talking with a number of friends about the efforts (and need) to keep the music of our forefathers (and fore-mothers, if you will) alive for future generations to discover. The Beatles and their families have been doing a great job keeping their universe of musics alive through new reissues, streaming, tribute recordings, archival releases and more.  Indeed, many new generation listeners are discovering the musical joys of Frank Zappa, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Raymond Scott, Charles Mingus and many more due to the efforts of surviving family members and the artists’ estates. 

Hoagy Carmichael

One artist who still seems to get overlooked these days actually wrote what is considered one of the greatest of American standards: “Stardust.” Yet, most people I know refer to the song as Willie Nelson’s tune, not Hoagy Carmichael who wrote it in 1927!  Indeed, Willie’s version was on the Billboard charts for some 10 years from its release as the title track for the 1978 album. According to the wiki, Hoagy Carmichael’s song has been recorded some 1500 times and translated into 40 different languages.

The Stark Reality

Still, not all of Hoagy Carmichael’s music has received that same level of devotion. Thus, the late 1960s efforts by his son — who was named Hoagy Bix — to help keep his father’s music alive and relevant to new generation of listeners was noble. His journey began when he quit his Wall Street job for a more heartfelt career path which landed him aligned with the important Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television affiliate, WGBH in Boston. In due time he met musicians working on other programs there and before long a group — named The Stark Reality (led by vibraphonist Monty Stark) — was recording music for a new children’s music education program called Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop, starring Hoagy Carmichael himself. 

Reinventing the songs from a 1958 children’s album Carmichael made for Golden Records, The Stark Reality music for the TV program was issued briefly on pianist Ahmad Jamal’s own short-lived music label AJP Records in 1969. It became a much sought after collectors item, its appeal no doubt enhanced in 21st Century times having been sampled by no less than The Black Eyed Peas on one of their smash hit albums. 

The album was called The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop and features Monty and his band — which included a young future-guitar legend John Abercrombie — winding their way around Hoagy Carmichael’s music in a manner more akin to the emerging progressive musics of the period than the sounds one would commonly associate with the so-called “Great American Songbook.”  Their interpretations took these innocent songs into some remarkable places. 

Fast forward, now we have a fine new reissue — released on Record Store Day featuring fresh lacquers cut from the original tapes in an all-analog transfer by the great Bernie Grundman —  of this rather wondrous rarity. 

Monty Stark

This music on The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop blends jazz, rock, psychedelia and whimsical pop all into one. Its kind of like if 1969-era Jerry Garcia was brought in to make music for Sesame Street backed by a band like The Soft Machine, but instead of Mike Ratlidge on organ, there was Monty Stark jamming out his electric vibrabphone. 

“Grandfather Clock” is a neat jazz work out — think what might have happened had Vince Guaraldi’s been allowed to record Charlie Brown Peanuts jams that went on for eight minutes — with Abercrombie’s raw overdriven distorted guitar soloing flying over the band’s swinging clarity, a fine bass solo from Phil Morrison and Stark’s own super distorted psychedelic vibraphone freakout. 

On The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop you can hear the influence of then-cutting-edge jazz rock fusion pioneers such as Frank Zappa and Larry Coryell and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew era music.  

“Dreams” is a great little prog rock type piece. And, for some reason — and happily for us fans of his music — there is a gorgeous John Abercrombie original included on the album called “Blue Pillow.” It is great on its own but in context it also delivers a much needed break from the intensity of the album (much in the way that “Mood For A Day” provided breathing space for listeners of Yes’ groundbreaking 1971 progressive rock album, Fragile

The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop was apparently issued in 2015 in a three LP configuration but this new version — produced by the folks at Now-Again Records — reproduces the original AJP Records label design and two-disc track listing. 

I am assuming that the new version is closer to the running order of the tracks on the original album (vs. the 2015 three-disc version which bears a different sequence). It is also probably more affordable than the triple disc version. While The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop sounds very good, it is at its root a fairly unpolished production, feeling at times like an indie rock record from the ‘90s (only playing offbeat jazz fusion constructs). 

The standard weight black vinyl pressing of The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop which I bought sounds fine. It is well centered and generally very quiet. No issues on that front. 

John Abercrombie

I have to say I’ve never seen an original copy of The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shopshow up anywhere in the wilds of record collecting. Those rare “OG” copies reportedly sell for upwards of $1000. Indeed, I found a listing of a promo copy sold on record collecting marketplace website Popsike some years back for $800. There are no 1969 editions currently available on the other big collectors selling site, Discogs.

The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop is a cool record if you like quirky sounds that dance around the fringes of the mainstream while touching down in prog and jazz fusion.  As much as this is inspired by Hoagy, the music ultimately is very far out and removed from the composer’s originals — I have one or two albums of his in my collection — so I’ll likely be filing this along with my John Abercrombie records.

If you want an idea of what the TV show was like and how the music was used, a clip exists on YouTube with different segments from the program. 

A clip of the expanded band performing exists as well

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